ISLAMABAD - Pakistan yesterday rejected the US State Department’s “unilateral and arbitrary” designation under the religious freedom report announced on 20 December 2019.

The foreign ministry in a statement said: “This pronouncement is not only detached from ground realities of Pakistan but also raises questions about the credibility and transparency of the entire exercise.” It added: “The designation is reflective of selective targeting of countries, and thus unlikely to be helpful to the professed cause of advancing religious freedom.”

Pakistan, it said, was a multi-religious and pluralistic country where people of all faiths enjoy religious freedom under constitutional protections.

“All branches -- the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary -- have made concerted efforts to ensure that all citizens of Pakistan, irrespective of faith, denomination, caste or creed, can profess and practice their religion in full freedom. The higher judiciary of the country has given landmark judgements directing on ensuring the sanctity and security of places of worship of minorities,” the statement said.

Earlier, the US Department of State announced that it was retaining Pakistan among ‘Countries of Particular Concern’ over its tolerance for ‘violations of religious freedom.’

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The designation, announced in a statement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, is in line with the US’ desire to “work diligently to promote religious freedom and combat abuses.” Countries in this category can face further actions, including economic sanctions, by the United States.

The foreign ministry said Pakistan had also engaged with the international community, including the US, for better understanding on religious freedom issues. 

This year, Senator Samuel Brownback, the US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, was welcomed in Pakistan for dialogue to advance the mutual objectives of religious freedom globally. It is regrettable that this constructive engagement has been overlooked.

The subjectivity and bias of the State Department’s designations are further illustrated by the conspicuous omission of India, the biggest violator of religious freedom. 

The US Congress has held two hearings and more than seventy US legislators have publicly expressed concerns over India’s treatment of Kashmiris and prolonged suppression of their fundamental rights in the Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir. 

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, the UN Secretary General in New York, and several European Parliaments have similarly expressed their concerns. In today’s India, people belonging to minority communities are being lynched, persecuted and killed with impunity. The National Register of Citizens and the recently adopted Citizenship Amendment Act are the latest examples of the Indian government’s actions to discriminate against people and evidently pave the way towards cleansing of society on the basis of religion, the statement said.

“Challenges to religious freedom are a global concern and only cooperative efforts can help address them. For its part, Pakistan has also raised concerns over growing trend of Islamophobia in many Western countries including the United States. Working together in an environment of trust and understanding is the best way forward in realizing the objective of promoting and protecting religious freedom,” it said.